On the campaign trail in Iowa, NBC’s Luke Russert managed to capture Republican Joni Ernst’s ascendancy and ultimate triumph with a pair of ready-made narratives.
Russert spent all day on Tuesday providing the same rote explanation for Ernst’s expected victory in Iowa’s Senate race.
“Why is she winning this race? Because she has the charisma, this personal narrative that overshadows that,” Russert explained to MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart.
By “that,” Russert was referring to Ernst’s arch-conservative positions. And as Russert would explain many times over, those positions — including support for the dissolution of the Department of Education — mattered a lot less than Ernst’s “charisma.”
Not even a half-hour after his chat with Diaz-Balart, Russert broke down the state of play in Iowa thusly during an interview with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall:
That’s what Democrats have been trying to push here in the last few hours, that Joni Ernst is against you on the issues. Unfortunately, where she’s beating Bruce Braley, this idea of who cares more about people like you. Joni Ernst’s charisma, her momentum seems to be giving her a little bit of an edge right now as we head into the final day, Tamron.
An hour later, reporting from the same spot in West Des Moines, Russert explained to host Andrea Mitchell why Ernst was reluctant to throw her support behind Mitch McConnell. He eventually made his way back to the candidate’s irresistible style:
[She] does not want to have any real connection to Washington, even to the bitter end. On that point, playing Ted Cruz, she doesn’t want to do that. One of her selling points is that she’s been able to be very conservative but also have an understanding tone. That’s what the Des Moines Register wrote about her. All that being said though, Andrea, as we go into the final hours here on Election Day in Iowa, Ernst is really trying to ride this popular charisma, the personality narrative that she has, being a woman Republican, the first woman from Iowa to go to the Senate, also being a veteran.
As the 5 p.m. hour approached, and with polls in Iowa remaining open for only a few hours longer, Russert squeezed one final drop from the sponge during an appearance on “Now with Alex Wagner”:
So, we’re starting to see a repackaging, if you will, of Joni Ernst in the final weeks, making the race about personality and charisma, something that’s greatly beneficial to her over Bruce Braley, who’s not been able to match her on those traits.
By late Tuesday, Ernst had capitalized on all that “charisma,” and it was time for NBC’s roving reporter to swap story lines. If it was her undeniable charm that put Ernst in a position to win in the first place, what would she reap now that victory had been claimed?
Russert offered this during an on-air conversation with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams:
She will be a force to be reckoned with. A lot of people are gonna want her endorsement in Iowa when they run for President in 2016. She could be a kingmaker, not only because of her veteran experience and being a female, because of what state she’ll represent. Someone to keep an eye on, for sure.
And with that, Joni Ernst the charismatic candidate had given way to Joni Ernst the Senator with the power to shake up the next presidential race. Russert had a descriptor in his back pocket.
“You have, I believe, probably the crown jewel of this class in Joni Ernst,” Russert told NBC correspondent Peter Alexander on Wednesday morning.
The next hour, he went on Diaz-Balart’s program to talk about how an endorsement from Ernst could be a boon for a “pragmatic moderate” like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).
“When she goes to Washington, Jose, I honestly think she will be the crown jewel of this class,” Russert said.
His subsequent appearance on MSNBC in the next hour confirmed that the label had stuck.
“Joni Ernst is gonna go to Washington and she, I think it’s fair to say, is the crown jewel of this class of Senate Republicans,” Russert said.